Margarita Karapanou; translated by Karen Emmerich
published 2011 • 5 1/2" x 7 3/4" • 245 pages
ISBN 9781566568388 • paperback • $16.00 •
"Margarita Karapanou leads us into the labyrinth where God lives. One must read her as one reads Rimbaud or Blake... Karapanou's insistence on tearing off our everyday clothes and ridiculous masks makes her, indeed, a truly remarkable writer."
-Jerome Charyn, Le Monde
"This novel, or anti-novel, or collection of linked tours de force, opens with a bored and adolescent God vomiting a new savior onto an unnamed Greek island. Although in due time we discover that this new Christ is a bizarrely murderous, androgynous, sexually rabid police officer, this is only after Margarita Karapanou has abandoned her strange opening to introduce us to an assortment of blocked artists, homosexuals, and numerous other island dwellers. These characters resemble protagonists, but are more like fellow observers, albeit ones caught up in an increasingly lurid pageant that draws in everyone with the fascination of catastrophe. Karapanou's book feels like a naïve form of modernism, each of the text's short, storylike chapters a work of bricolage built from the diverse materials circulating in her cluttered mind. Like the best art, her plots unfold without self-consciousness or apparent purpose, yet they resist simple interpretations and have an impressive structural solidity. Her extremely muscular, tight prose makes a fine medium for the book's relentlessly surreal, breathtakingly complex happenings, reminiscent of a Latin-inflected Pynchon. Though the book thus described may sound like a mess, The Sleepwalker in fact exudes a sense of strong thematic unity in its slow, relentless progress toward apocalypse-which, when it does arrive, is just as rich, satisfying, and inevitable as everything that has led up to it. If The Sleepwalker is any indication, Karapanou was a major voice whose books demand to be read."
-Scott Esposito, Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Winner of the Prix de meilleur livre étranger/Prize for the best foreign novel, France
At the opening of Margarita Karapanou's stunning second novel, in disgust at mankind God vomits a new Messiah onto the earth. Or rather, onto a Greek island. Populated by villagers, ex-pats, artists, writers, this island is a Tower of Babel, a place where languages and individuals have been assembled, as though in wait for something as horrific and comic as this second coming. The Sleepwalker moves deftly and dizzyingly between genres-satire, murder mystery, magical realism, its own brand of Theater of the Absurd—following Manolis, the new Messiah, as he moves through this place like a sleepwalker, unaware to the very end of his divine nature. Manolis, in his guise as policeman, leaves nothing unchanged by his passing, as the island shifts from a conventional locale for upper-class tourists and drifters to a place where the surreal comes to life and the sun refuses to set. In The Sleepwalker Karapanou has created an unforgettable depiction of a dissolute world, desperately comic and full of compassion, a world in which nightmare and miracle both uneasily reside.
Margarita Karapanou (1946-2008) was one of Greece's most beloved contemporary writers. Her novels Kassandra and the Wolf and Rien ne va plus are both available from Clockroot Books.
Karen Emmerich is an acclaimed translator of Modern Greek poetry and prose. Her translations include Karapanou's Rien ne va plus, as well as works by Vassilis Vassilikos, Miltos Sachtouris, and Ersi Sotiropoulos.
"As the novel opens God is pondering his creation of mankind and feeling that he has made an error. 'For the first time he felt sad, and deeply bored. He saw that his people were small and ridiculous, and he was gripped by an awful rage because he had created them with such love.' From the heavens, God pours rain onto a Greek man called Manolis who is thus, unknowingly, baptised the new Messiah.
Manolis is a police officer on a Greek island that is partly populated by foreigners-artistic types seeking a paradise that will allow their creativity to flourish. The main characters are both eccentric and droll. Mark is a portrait-painter who cannot complete his works. His oeuvre consists of a multitude of headless forms, which his friends are secretly collecting and hoping to sell, one day, for a truckload of money. Ron knits incessantly and makes plans. Not one of the plans is implemented but he is compelled to continue. Maggie cooks astonishing, themed banquets for her friends. And then there is poor Luka, a writer who cannot put pen to paper and takes to drinking ink instead. As a kind of penance she also visits the slightly repulsive Anezoula and massages her legs as Anezoula tells strings of quirky stories. Karapanou throws her own vignettes into the mix and describes some farcical scenes which at times made me laugh out loud.
Then, suddenly, The Sleepwalker takes a very dark turn and we begin to understand God's disappointment."
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